What do you regret?
A simple question that a few friends and I were asking ourselves at a particularly-reflective dinner outing. We, of course, thought about college. Not the entire four years (wouldn’t that be exciting?). More like those occasional moments when we drank too much, talked too much or just acted stupid.
But thinking about those years doesn’t keep me up at night. More often than not, the silly times make me smile—like the time my friend Janet and I went from frat party to frat party sharing the devastating news that Wham! had broken up. No one seemed as concerned as we were. Shocking. Did they not see the genius behind “Wake me up before you go-go?”
What keeps me up at night is thinking about things I said or did that might have hurt another person. One particular incident from the early ‘80s still haunts me today. A few high school friends and I had gone to a hockey game. We were looking for a place to sit, when we noticed an older man sitting on the bleachers. My friend motioned that we could go sit near him. It’s then that I noticed that the man looked a little odd. His face was covered in weird bumps. It was startling.
In the spur of that moment—like the stupid, ignorant kid I was—I suggested we sit farther away. I can’t tell you how I hate myself for that reaction. If my kids acted that way today, I’d sternly tell them not to judge people on their appearance. What’s so stupid about it is how irrational it all is. Even if it was a rash and he was highly contagious, was I going to catch it by sitting near him? No.
Still I went the other way out of fear and ignorance. I don’t know if he even noticed us that night. But the thought that he might have, makes me feel absolutely horrible. The man had the courage to come out and enjoy a hockey game knowing that stupid, silly girls like me would stare at him and perhaps walk the other way.
While this happened about 30 years ago, the memory of it came to me again this summer during our conversation about regret. I kept thinking how I wish I could apologize to that man. But I have no idea who he was or even what made him look like that. (Not that that even matters.)
But then something weird happened. A couple of weeks after my dinner, a woman named Darcy Barry called me and suggested that I do a story about neurofibromatosis (NF)—a condition she was diagnosed with when she was 18 years old. She went on to explain to me that NF causes tumors to grow on your nerves, so those with NF often have bumps all over their face, neck, arms and legs.
I felt my stomach drop.
I’m almost positive that’s what that man had all those years ago. I saw it as a sign. Maybe, this was my chance to make up for my poor teenage behavior by helping tell Darcy’s story.
So I went to the childcare center Darcy operates in north Moorhead. I was greeted by adorable, enthusiastic kids and a teacher with sparkling blue eyes and a giant smile – and yes, Darcy had a few bumps on her skin. But who cares? She was beautiful and smart and patient with me as I tried to understand NF.
Read her story by clicking on the image below:
The story I wrote on Darcy doesn’t make up for my ignorance 30 years ago, but I’m grateful to Darcy for helping spread the word about NF and perhaps preventing other people from behaving the way I did all those years ago.